Was He or Wasn’t He? Secretary Buttigieg Tried to Have It Both Ways on Paternity Leave
- January 12, 2023
Records show the Secretary couldn’t be bothered to even schedule infrastructure call with Senator
Today, government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust released information showing that, despite assertions to the contrary, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s paternity leave rendered him unavailable at times. Additionally, the Secretary apparently failed to issue a formal delegation of authority, causing some chaos as, not surprisingly, important decisions still needed to be made during his leave.
Secretary Buttigieg has frequently touted his ability to fulfill his duties as DOT Secretary during the time he was on an unprecedented, two-month paternity leave. As he explained to CNN’s Jake Tapper:
Now, look, even though I have been on paternity leave . . . when you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you’re going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what’s going on, and you’re going to have to engage.
And I did, even if that meant taking a phone call or making a decision from a hospital room. [emphasis added]
However, documents obtained by PPT in a FOIA lawsuit with DOT tell a much different story. Contrary to the Secretary’s explicit claims about taking phone calls, DOT rebuffed a request by Senator Chuck Grassley for a phone conversation with the Secretary during his paternity leave. While the supply chain crisis was raging, the Senator sought to discuss resolution of an issue involving a massive, $1.2 billion bridge project that was nearing completion.
Secretary Buttigieg’s office spurned the Senator’s appeal for a call by stating, “Unfortunately, the Secretary is currently on leave due to the birth of his twins,” and suggesting “perhaps we can aim for a meeting when the Secretary returns from his leave.” [emphasis added] Records show the Secretary had been on leave for nearly six weeks at this point. No prospective dates or times were offered, however, and Secretary Buttigieg’s calendars reveal that he did not return from his paternity leave until weeks after Senator Grassley’s request.
The lack of a formal delegation of the Secretary’s authority also appeared to cause some havoc. Although the Department regulations assign authority to the Deputy Secretary to take some actions, they leave authority for other tasks and responsibilities unclear. As a result, the Secretary’s leave evidently created turmoil within the Department. In one incident about a week after his leave began, attorneys across the Department were forced to engage in a frantic conversation beginning on a Friday night and continuing through that weekend to resolve an issue of delegation of authority around a large loan program. Another heavily redacted conversation showed DOT attorneys were forced to determine the status of authority within the Department to make legally mandated reports to Congress.
“As a father myself, I understand that being a parent is the most important job in the world,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “But the Secretary of Transportation’s obligations to the American public are 24/7, as Secretary Buttigieg has admitted. It appears as though, during his paternity leave, he was not always available when called upon and did not have some necessary contingencies in place to ensure the continuity of operations at DOT. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that so many crises involving the Department, from the supply chain breakdown to the FAA system outage that grounded flights all over the country, have occurred on his watch.”